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Colani-Abarth-Alfa Romeo Aerodynamic Coupe

How I found the 1958 Abarth-Colani Alfa Romeo Aerodynamica

By Michael Kliebenstein

During a SuperFinds book signing in Italy, a very friendly elderly man approached me. I was just about to sign his copy when, all of a sudden, he showed me his mobile phone, asking if I knew the car on the little screen.

What I saw was a rather dusty but beautiful red coupe. Though normally my experience enables me to pinpoint many mystery cars, I hesitated. 

Red Alfa Romeo coupe

It had a very low double-bubble coupe body with a long Drogo-like nose - a familiar design for sure. But it looked much too good to be a special. Maybe a prototype, I thought. The man then said that I would probably never guess what it was but, if I did, he would buy me a cup of coffee. After about 10 minutes chewing my nails, I admitted defeat.

He then hinted that this was the first GT car to do the old Nürburgring Nordschleife in under 10 minutes. 

My eyes became wider and I looked again. This super-lightweight 1950s GT didn't look like an all-out race car to me.  To try and salvage my reputation, I heard myself saying that it could only be a one-off Zagato, maybe on a chassis of an O.S.C.A. or a Fiat or similar. All wrong.

He smiled, put his hand on my shoulder in the Italian way, and whispered in my ear. “It is an Abarth-Alfa with an aerodynamic body by Luigi Colani.”

Before I could say anything, this friendly man disappeared into the crowd. All I saw was his hand waving in the air as he carried my signed SuperFinds book proudly away.

Abarth-Colani

This experience left me thinking, and in the evening I researched that mysterious little racer in my hotel room. In fact, it turned out to be a very famous car indeed. A real piece of motoring history.

It was in 1958 when designer Luigi ‘Lutz’ Colani put into practice a combination of his own styling ethos and the thinking of none other than the great Carlo Abarth into this one car, the Abarth-Colani Alfa Romeo Aerodynamic Coupe.  Carlo Abarth had commissioned ‘Lutz’ Colani to build a super light experimental aerodynamic car based upon an Alfa Romeo tubular chassis.

Abarth-Colani in the press

The car emerged weighing just 780kg and, with 110bhp, the Abarth-Colani Alfa Romeo Coupe was claimed to achieve 210km/h – an incredible 130mph. It was rightly acclaimed as the first GT car to lap the Nürburgring in under 10 minutes. 

A famous Alfa Romeo

The success brought great acclaim to the German industrial designer Colani, who was born in Berlin in 1928 to a Swiss father and a Polish mother. After studying sculpture in Berlin and aerodynamics at the Sorbonne in Paris, ‘Lutz’ Colani became a styling consultant to Fiat in the mid-1950s, and that’s presumably where he met Carlo Abarth.The result was this extremely beautiful Colani-Abarth-Alfa Romeo Aerodynamic Coupe, a fascinating 1950s aerodyne and one of the rarest Abarths ever built.

    In the movies

    Once the dreadful lockdown is over, I will certainly go and see the car in person, and possibly beg a little drive around the beautiful Italian countryside.

      Rear view of the Abarth-Colani

      To conclude with an anorak fact: in 1972 Colani was responsible for the unusual aerodynamic form of the Eifelland-March Formula 1 car driven by Rolf Stommelen, and later in the ’70s he presented interesting aeronautical designs on cars, trucks and even his unique Ferrari 512 Testa d’Oro, which he presented with tremendous showmanship at the great industrial exhibitions of the world. Many magazine articles appeared about the car. It was well known at that time. Later it was sold to the Rosso Bianco Museum in Germany and rarely seen in public after 1989.

      Side profile of an Abarth-Colani

      Other articles by Michael Kliebenstein

      Books by Michael

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      Comments

      Graham Earl - January 6, 2021

      The Colani Abarth started life with a body styled by Franco Scaglione and built by Bertone. The original coachwork was very much prettier than the subsequent Colani coachwork. If you want to study this car, look at photos of the proper, original body and you will see a thing of beauty. The Colani body is interesting, but it isn’t beautiful.

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